Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Aniesha Brahma

The Time Stealer

It had all started on the eve of Nikita’s thirteenth birthday. As she stood at the front door of her house, shivering and waiting for her brother to come home, Nikita remembered that night.
“What do you want for your thirteenth birthday?” asked her mother, tucking her into bed.

Nikita tilted her head to one side and answered, “A wrist watch.”
“All right, sweetheart,” her mother replied, giving her a goodnight kiss.
No sooner had her mother left the room to go check on their house cat, Ginger, her elder brother sneaked in.

“Who’s there?” Nikita asked, sharply.
Nikhil put on a hoarse voice and replied, “It is I: the hunter of little girls.”
Realizing it was her brother, the girl cried indignantly, “Oh shut up! I know it’s only you.”
Her brother laughed and sat down at the foot of her bed, “So do you really want a wrist watch for your birthday?”

“Yes,” Nikita put her nose in the air, “I will be a teenager after all.”
The wrist watch belonging to her brother had been a source of envy for her for the last two years. Her parents had promised to get her one too for her birthday. She seized this chance to ask for the wrist watch.

“Fine,” her brother said, “I know where to get you a really good watch.”
“But –”
“Are you going to be a baby now?”
“Good. We’ll go after school tomorrow.”
They had got off from the bus at their stop. But instead of taking the usual route to their house, Nikhil pointed to the old lane adjoining to the main road.
“Mummy said never to use that,” whispered Nikita.
“Oh, you are a little girl,” sneered Nikhil, “and you say you’re a teenager!”
“Well, it’s my first day,” was her reply, “you’ve been a teenager for two years now.”

They took the unused alleyway. The walls on either side had become covered with moss, and creepers and climbers hung from the place. After a five minute walk, the alleyway opened into a clearing. There was a solitary tree standing at the end of the place. Before long, they spied an old man sitting under the tree, with glinting gold and silver in front of him. When they came closer, Nikita saw that the gold and silver were actually watches spread out. Nikita gaped at her brother in wonder.
“Who is that?”
“An old watchmaker,” Nikhil said.
“Is he reliable?”
“Come on…”

Nikhil took his sister firmly by the hand, and led her up to the watchmaker. He looked up and smiled when he saw the children approaching. He was an old man, crooked and bent over his prized watches. Nikita noted that one of his front teeth was missing. She didn’t know what it was about him exactly that made her feel rather uncomfortable being in his presence.
“How many I help you, young man?” the old man asked.
“My sister here would like to buy a watch,” Nikhil replied, more confidently than he felt, “Can she see which one she likes best?”

“Of course,” said the old man, waving a hand at the display before him, “take your time and choose a watch.”
Nikita, still holding on to Nikhil’s hand, peeked at the watches on display. They were all old fashioned. Just like the one Nikhil sported around his wrist, the one mummy and daddy got him for his thirteenth birthday.
A pretty silver watch caught her eye. The silver band seemed to be made of elastic. Nikita wordlessly pointed at it. Nikhil nodded, bent down and picked it up.
“It does look good,” Nikita commented, after slipping it into her wrist, “do you think I should take it, Nikhil?”

The boy tilted his head to one side and said, “Yes, it does look good. I think you should take it,” He turned to the old man now, “How much are you going to charge for that watch?”
“Three hundred rupees,” the old man claimed, without batting an eyelid.
Nikhil narrowed his eyes. He knew the old watchmaker was only making it hard for him, as he was a teenager. But Nikhil would show him! He would show the old man that no one could cheat Nikhil. The watch was, after all, a poor quality knock off. He told the old man so.

“My dear lad,” laughed the watchmaker on hearing Nikhil’s indignant reply, “If this was indeed a poor quality knock off, I wouldn’t be selling these watches in the alley now, would I?”
Nikita tugged at her brother’s sleeve and whispered, “These could be stolen, Nikhil. I’m scared. Please let’s just go home?”
“No, Nikita,” Nikhil scoffed, “I am not letting the old man have his way. These aren’t stolen either. They are knock offs.”

“My darling,” said the old watchmaker, addressing Nikita, “Don’t you like your birthday gift?”
“How did you know it is my birthday?” Nikita was taken aback.
Nikhil grew a little suspicious of this strange old man now. He wondered if Nikita’s theory of the watchmaker being a thief was true. He had heard a rather lot of stories about the mysterious old man who sits selling his watches, from the boys in his class. He hadn’t really thought that there was truth to their tales. One of the boys had told him that the watchmaker was all knowing.
“That is impossible,” Nikhil had said in disbelief, “No human being can be all knowing.”
“Well the watchmaker is,” his friend had insisted.
“Is he God?”

“Possibility…hey, you want to play basketball at lunch today?”
Nikhil thought now that in the off chance this mysterious watchmaker was indeed all-knowing, he would ask him about all the things that had been bugging him lately. For instance, why wasn’t he being picked up for the basketball team, instead of getting picked on by the senior boys?
The crooked man smiled at the siblings now, and said, “That is my final offer, children. I cannot give you a better one.”

“Are you quite sure about that?” asked Nikhil, heating up. He had promised to get his sister a watch, and at any cost, he was going to keep it.
“Final offer, child,” the watchmaker said, decidedly.
Nikhil considered a minute, then seized his sister by the arm and pushed her towards the exit of the alley, screaming, “Run, run!”

And so, Nikita had run off. She had run as fast as her feet would carry her, getting herself scratched by the low hanging tree branches, getting her skirt caught in some of the bushes, and nearly tripping over the stones which adorned the way out of the alley. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nikhil throw some money at the watchmaker, and take off as well. She had turned her head for a minute and the next; she saw that she had lost sight of her brother.

After sometime, Nikita found that her tired feet had carried her home. She had since then, been waiting for her brother at the entrance of her house. The minutes had definitely turned into hours, for the girl felt she had been standing in waiting, and shivering, for an eternity.
Finally, her brother emerged from the streets and appeared at the gates of their home. Overjoyed to see him, she rushed to him and caught him around the middle.

“Hey, hey,” Nikhil said, hugging back his sister, “why are you so scared? I’m home now.”
“Do you know how long you’ve been gone?” accused Nikita, letting him go and stepping back.
“Around ten minutes,” her brother replied with a shrug, “why are you being so paranoid?”
“Nikhil, you were gone for over two hours!”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No, see my watch?”

She thrust her wrist right under his nose, and seeing the time displayed, Nikhil scowled. He tilted his head to one side and then came up with the only logical solution.
“Your watch has been acting weird. Here, let me change it to the correct time.”
Nikhil wouldn’t accept any other arguments from his little sister. She resigned to letting him believe he was right. Deep down though, the girl was convinced there was something amiss about the whole incident.

The next day, Nikita’s mother woke her up, with a surprise breakfast in bed.
“Good morning, my little one,” her mother smiled, placing the tray in front of Nikita, “I made your favorite breakfast today.”
“Why?” asked Nikita, surprised, “What’s so special about today?”
“Oh honey, you surely haven’t forgotten?”
“Forgotten, what?”                                             
“That it is your birthday?”
“My birthday was yesterday…” said Nikita, feeling a little confused, “didn’t you wish me yesterday?”
“Oh darling, that was one year ago,” her mother smiled, and kissed her on the forehead, “happy fourteenth birthday, dear.”
“Fourteenth?” echoed the girl, blankly, “where is Nikhil?”
“What is wrong with you this morning, Nikita? Don’t you remember your brother went off to college last month?”

Nikita’s eyes grew as round as saucers on hearing that. She threw off her blankets, and rushed from her room, to her brother’s next door. It had been only yesterday that he had come sneaking into her room, trying to scare her. She flung open the door and sure enough, there was no one in the room.
She sank to the floor, trying to collect her wits, and gripped her hair with both her hands. Something hard brushed against her head and raising her eyes, Nikita noticed that she was wearing the silver wristwatch her brother had got from that old watchmaker. The young girl sat there, on the floor, confused with the recent events of her life.
“Old watches for sale, old watches for sale,” cried a voice outside.
Quicker than lightning, Nikita went to the window in her brother’s room and peered down. The watchmaker was fairly recognizable from the day before. But gone were his crooked form and his white hair. He looked rather young.

It struck her then, what the old watchmaker really was. He was a time stealer.
He stole time from other people’s lives and used it to get more time in his own. Feeling sick to her stomach, Nikita took off her watch and tried to rewind the time, in the hopes she could get her brother back. But the obnoxious watch wouldn’t change its time. After a lot of struggle, Nikita finally threw it violently at the wall. It bounced off happily and lay on her brother’s bed.
As she was about to exit her brother’s room, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looked a lot older than a teenager now. Her time was being stolen as well…she didn’t what she could do about it.

From down the hallway, she could hear her mother’s voice, “My dearest Nikita, where are you, darling? Don’t you want to celebrate your twenty first birthday?”
“My time,” she kept saying, blankly, “my time…he stole my time, he stole my time…”

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